The head of UN Women believes that instead of debating over protecting women’s sexual and reproductive rights, the United Nations’ premier global body fighting for gender equality should focus on closing the gender gap in political leadership and ensuring women have a strong voice in restoring economies following the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said that the pandemic has increased domestic violence and resulted in women losing two-thirds of the jobs lost during the coronavirus crisis. She also stated that 11 million girls are at risk of never going to school, that child marriage is on the rise, and that orphans and child-headed homes are on the rise.
“So whatever you strike, women are in a bad space,” she said, citing the pandemic and underlying sexism that has “always been there.” “This implies that rebuilding better is about gender equity, just as it is about green economies and fair resource distribution.”
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on International Women’s Day earlier this month, the pandemic has shown that “this is indeed a male-dominated world with a male-dominated society.”
He did claim, however, that the pandemic has prompted a reckoning with global disparities, fragilities, and systemic gender inequality.
All of these questions, according to Mlambo-Ngcuka, are currently being debated at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s two-week conference, which ends on Friday. They will also undoubtedly be discussed at two big upcoming events in Mexico City and Paris, which will mark the postponed 25th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing women’s conference, which introduced a 150-page road map to achieve gender equality.
One of the goals of the commission meeting, according to UN Women’s executive director, is to encourage governments to implement mandatory steps to achieve political parity. Just 25% of lawmakers worldwide are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and only 22 countries have a female head of state or government, with Europe leading the list.
“The status of women is the status of democracy,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said, quoting US Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke to the commission last week.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “It is not doing women any favors.” “It actually lends legitimacy to democracy by demonstrating that the desires and number of women who engage in public institutions… increase the quality of decisions made.”
However, she claims that the outcome document from this year’s commission meeting, which is supposed to concentrate on fostering women’s leadership and combating abuse, is facing “pushback” on “the same old problems,” such as women’s sexual and reproductive rights, which are part of the 1995 Beijing agenda.
There are also countries that “do not want to speak about human rights, who do not want to talk about human rights defenders, who are watching us do little to recognize nonconforming gender roles,” according to Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“Asking about sexual and reproductive rights when we’re talking about the women’s engagement and making this a life-or-death problem is almost detracting from the larger theme,” she lamented.
Mlambo-Ngcuka was also outspoken in his criticism of the fact that 80 percent of countries have COVID-19 task forces to deal with issues that arose or worsened as a result of the pandemic, which are dominated by men.
However, these groups must address problems that impact women, such as gender-based violence, lost employment, and the digital gender gap, which has left more women and girls without digital skills, which are becoming increasingly important to obtain jobs in the twenty-first century, she said.
“How do you make decisions about women without women’s input?” she enquired. “This is a tragedy waiting to happen.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka said in an interview last Thursday that UN Women is now engaging countries to try to ensure adequate female representation.
On a more optimistic note, she noted that 144 countries have strengthened efforts to combat violence against women, and that for the first time since the pandemic, policymakers are involved in studying the “care economy,” which includes child care infrastructure, community-based services to assist and care for the elderly, and the state of health systems.
Mlambo-Ngcuka expects this to be a major topic of discussion at the two Generation Equality forums, which will take place in Mexico City on March 29-31 and Paris on June 30-July 2.
Young people, civil society, the private sector, technology firms, and governments will be invited to both events, she said, to promote initiatives such as ending violence against women, bridging the digital divide, and ensuring that the 11 million girls at risk of dropping out stay in school.
“We would like to bring to the world… a menu of measures that discuss gender equality,” she said at the end of the Paris conference.